Drag racing is a game of traction. All the horsepower in the world is useless if the driving wheels spin and burn rubber while the car sits still at the starting line. Meanwhile, if the opponent doesn’t spin, he’ll be off and running with a lead you’ll never make up at the finish line.
Back in 1964 Chrysler Corp. radically changed the look of stock bodied drag race cars by repositioning the front and rear tires forward under the otherwise stock body shells of a fleet of four cars (two Dodges and two Plymouths). They did it again in 1965 with a larger fleet of 11 cars. The result of moving the front and rear axle centerlines was an immediate traction improvement.
Static front/rear weight distribution reversed from 45/55 to 55/45, and suddenly these altered wheelbase Dodge (and Plymouth) factory-sponsored drag cars were the ones to catch. A side effect of the bizarre funhouse mirror appearance of these so-called funny cars was a raft of copycats of virtually every make. By 1966, hundreds of home-brewed altered wheelbase exhibition match racers had been constructed from coast to coast, and spectators couldn’t get enough.
Unfortunately, by 1968 race speeds approached 200 mph, and the altered wheelbase cars proved to be unruly at top speed. So a new generation of super light funny cars consisting of fiberglass replica body shells riding atop tube steel dragster chassis took over. Riding on longer wheelbases, these flip-top fiberglass funny cars were more stable and remain with us today.
But in the past decade, nostalgia-minded drag race fans have shone new light and enthusiasm on the altered wheelbase phenomenon. Today, hot rodders are building modern replicas of these odd looking racers, and not only in the “real world” of metal, gasoline and oil. Plastic 1/25 scale model car enthusiasts are also getting in on the altered wheelbase game.
Here’s a review of some altered wheelbase model building I’ve been up to lately. Maybe you’ll get some ideas from the pictures.
Wheelbase alteration adds an element of energy and action, as if the wheels are trying to jump out ahead of the body. This particular 1/25 scale Challenger kit is a simplified “curbside” model with no engine. I cut a hole in the hood so a supercharger could be added for visual excitement.
The wheelbase alteration process is very simple. I use a thin razor saw to make my cuts then shuffle the panels around, adding fillers as needed. Fast drying cyanoacrylate glue bonds all parts together. So far nobody has built an actual (drivable) altered wheelbase Challenger. But it could be done!
Once the wheels are moved forward under the body and chassis, strategic placement of “George Washington” ballast makes the car hover on its rear tires as if it is in the middle of a starting line wheelie. Small flat spots are sliced into the rear tire tread surfaces to stabilize the car in its wheelie pose so it seems to defy gravity.
Comparing the stock (top) and modified chassis, note the relocation surgery and use of scrap box suspension bits to increase the ride height of the body. Painted detailing could be applied either before or after final assembly for added eye appeal.
When I have more time, I apply body putty to cover the surgery scars then paint the model for maximum appeal. The 1964 Dodge funny car in the foreground is a loose representation of the original Dodge altered wheelbase race cars. The driver’s side is totally stock with the standard wheelbase and conservative gray paint. I built it in 1979 to show off the altered wheelbase treatment.